Postpartum Depression in The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman


Charlotte Perkins Gilman in her work “The Yellow Wallpaper” illustrates the protagonist suffers from postpartum depression, which is a result of rapid changes in the level of hormones such as thyroid, progesterone, and estrogen after giving birth. The Postpartum Depression (PPD) Patient Journey (8) explains that postpartum depression mostly results from isolation and stress immediately after giving birth. In The Yellow Wallpaper the protagonist, Jane was brushed off by John her husband who was a doctor, who stated that his wife had a temporary nervous condition. Instead of treating Jane’s condition, John isolated his wife, which escalated the condition to severe form.

Isolating the protagonist from the world led to the development of postpartum psychosis, which according to Beyond the ‘Baby Blues (2) is the severe form of postpartum reaction. Some of the symptoms of postpartum psychosis include rapid mood swings, difficulty communicating at times, suspiciousness and paranoia, decreased or inability to sleep, being highly irritable, hallucinations, and delusions/strange beliefs (The Postpartum Depression (PPD) Patient Journey 7). The author applies the setting of the story to illustrate the loneliness of the protagonist where she is living in a distant country mansion. The depth of Jane’s thought is enhanced through the use of flat characters where the progression of postpartum psychotic is illustrated by Jane’s interior monologue. Therefore, the assignment will explore the aspect of postpartum depression, its symptoms, and the impact it has on women based on The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

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It is common for mothers to experience baby blues immediately after giving birth. Some of the symptoms or telltale signs include weepiness, irritability, and anxiety mostly during the first week after giving birth. Jane in Gilman (268) explains that “I cry at nothing and cry most of the time” where she worries about her son who she cannot be with. However, few may develop postpartum depression and a few may result in postpartum psychosis. According to ‘Beyond the Baby Blues’ (1), postpartum depression affects approximately 10% to 15% of mothers after giving birth and presents with a feeling of guilt, worthlessness, and sadness. One symptom of postpartum depression according to ‘Beyond the Baby Blues’ (1) is depressed mood and sadness, which the protagonist expresses in the narrative that, “But these nervous troubles are dreadfully depressing” (2). This is an indication that she is not only having the common Baby Blues but suffering from postpartum depression presenting with depressed moods and sadness. 

Jane’s condition is heightened by the misdiagnosis of John who although is a doctor is also her husband. This illustrates the suffering of women in a male-dominated world where they are confined in their homes and cannot do the activities they love. According to Suess (86), although John is a doctor, he applies super-rational ways to treat his wife, which illustrates John as a patriarchy bully who presents male dominion in western society. As a patriarchy bully, John does not believe his wife is sick and according to Jane, he assures his relatives and friends that “there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency” (Gilman 13). Although he is a physician, he gives his wife a rest cure or isolation making her situation worse (Davidson 55). Hence, it is clear from a feminist’s perspective that Jane’s condition is heightened by her marriage, particularly her husband who does not listen to Jane but follow his views ‘as a man’.

Jane’s condition – postpartum depression- may be argued to be founded on Gilman upbringing and experiences during the early years of her life (Raouf and Ali 130). In the article, “The Helpless Angel in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper” by Raouf and Ali, the personal experience of Charlotte Perkins Gilman plays a crucial role in the plot of the story. Suess (131) argues that Gilman parent’s divorced while young, which led to a lonely and painful childhood. After such a painful upbringing, her marriage had issues and they were elevated by the birth of her daughter Katherine where she suffered mental depression. This is the reason why the author uses Jane’s story to illustrate her pain after giving birth and in marriage.

Raouf and Ali (130) argue that the experiences of Gilman both as a wife and as a mother inspired her to illustrate the struggles faced by women in a male-dominated world. She dramatizes her experience in The Yellow Wallpaper where she portrays Victorian women as the ‘Angel of the House’. The role of a woman during the twentieth century was described as “serving like angels and sacrificing themselves for their families” (131). Through this, women were denied the right to take part in intellectual activities as illustrated by Jane who is opposed to writing (Gilman, 2). This is in line with Suess (80) where he argues that the oppressive structure of society places women at risk of male dominance. 

Based on symbolic order illustrated by Suess he argues that being in symbolic order, an individual, “enters the realm of language, gains a connection with the Name-of-the –father, finds a place in the world for others, and is founded with the foundation of the objectionable and unity of the self” (82). Suess explains that a psychotic individual lacks the ability of self-identity or commonality, as they cannot symbolize what requires symbolizing. In The Yellow Wallpaper, Gilman applies the symbolic order where she exposes Jane criticizing the ‘yellow wallpaper’ who is the woman she attempts to save. Jane expresses, “there are things in that paper which nobody knows but me, or ever will.   Behind that outside pattern, the dim shapes get clearer every day.   It is always the same shape, only very numerous” (Gilman 120-123). This is an indication of the journey to identify self. Howell (132) argues writing was one way that Jane expresses herself, which is a form of searching for her identity. 

The Lacanian approach expressed by Suess (83-86) illustrates the emotional period experienced by a woman after giving birth. Suess (83) explains that a Lacanian psychotic Jane, instead of the joyous feeling that is attached with giving birth, she represents a fraction of other women who experienced an emotional period commonly termed as postpartum depression. Nonetheless, John misdiagnosis Jane, “So I take phosphates or phosphites—whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again. Personally, I disagree with their ideas” (Gilman 16-18). Raouf and Ali (130) illustrate that what John terms a nervous condition progressed with paranoia, delusions, and visual hallucinations irrespective of taking the phosphates or phosphite.

The logical thoughts of Jane are greatly affected by her realization of the ‘yellow wallpaper’. Her thoughts are greatly disturbed by lack of inconsistency, which leads her to state, “I positively angry with the impertinence of it and the everlastingness” (Gilman 649). This is an indication of a nervous and anxious individual and she is within the realm of neurotypicality. Suess (130) explains that the yellow paper greatly contributes to the slip of her memory where she is irrationally irritated by the inanimate object. The yellow wallpaper greatly affects Jane where the readers see her condition transitioning from a depression to a psychotic condition. The author illustrates Jane’s distaste towards the wallpaper where she describes the color as unclean, smoldering, revolting, repelling and fading yellow (Gilman 649).

In the wall, Jane sees a provoking figure, which is formless, provoking, and strange skulking against the conspicuous and silly front design. The author uses some of these aspects to illustrate the deterioration of the protagonist through hallucinations and delusions. The longer she remains in the room, the more obsessed she is, as she lives in a lonely and isolated room where the lonely people she interacts with is her husband and her sister. Camickle argues that the lack of early diagnosis of postpartum depression results in postpartum psychosis (582). Therefore, the psychotic condition experienced by Jane is a result of misdiagnosis, lack of associations, and her hallucination is a simulation. 

‘Beyond the Baby Blues’ explores the causes and risks of postpartum depression, which includes biological vulnerability, psychological factors, life stressors, and physiological factors. These factors contribute to the development of Jane’s condition where her lack of interaction results in hyperactive imaginations where she starts hallucinating and views the strange figure in the yellow wallpaper as a mysterious woman. She starts describing the woman as herself where for example, she states that the women do not creep by daylight (Gilman 654) and she closes her life from the outside world because people outside creep on the ground, which is green in color rather than in a wallpaper. There lacks any sliver sanity in Jane’s case as the story ends, which is parallel to the amount of isolation Jane suffers. According to Camickle (592), one of the treatment strategies for postpartum depression is increasing intellectual activities and eliminating isolation in the individual’s life. 

Nonetheless, irrespective of these causes in Jane’s condition, it is evident to the reader that the true cause is John, the husband. Gilman illustrates the misdiagnosis of Jane’s condition at the beginning of the story where John indicates and tells friends and families that Jane suffers from hysterical depression (13). Nonetheless, according to Suess (84) argument on Lacanian psychotic, it is clear that during the nineteenth century, mental health among women was disregarded and this was brushed off as a hysteria period. This resulted in wrong treatments where patients were treated through isolation and rest cure, which greatly and negatively affected their health Carmickle (588). As a woman, Jane is aware of the misdiagnosis but due to the patriarchal nature of men, she has no right to talk or be involved in medical decisions regarding her health.  

Notably, Jane does not fit in the symbolic order due to her anonymity, as well as, the patriarchal in the story (Suess 86). This is illustrated in line three of the passage that John rented a hereditary estate or an ancestral hall (Gilman 3), which is an illustration of the Western society patrilineality (Suess 86). The aspect of lack of symbolic order is illustrated by John’s nature as a patriarch where Gilman (3) states, “John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures”.  Raouf and Ali, on the other hand, represent John as a man of law and order who dominates the Angel of the house (131). His ruling aspect is illustrated by his role as his wife’s physician in all domains including social, professional and personal life.  Irrespective of his attempts to provide a cure to his wife, he orders his wife to take a prescription every other hour (Gilman 4) and continuously bids his wife to maintain her self-control (5) and to apply her good sense and will (7) to suppress any disruptive or imaginative tendencies. 

In conclusion, the insanity of the protagonist in The Yellow Wall-Paper by Gilman is not Jane’s fault. Some of the contributing factors to her condition include her husband patriarchal character or lack of understanding towards his wife, isolation, and postpartum depression. Although her mental issues were triggered by baby blues, it is evident from the text that under simulations elevated the condition. This is significant in today’s life on some of the aspects to consider during the treatment and management related to depression and particularly postnatal depression. For example, the readers may adopt the use of intellectual activities, patient-centered care and shared decision making in the management and treatment of psychotic patients and other mental related issues. If John had taken his wife’s points into consideration, the majority of the happenings in Jane’s case would have been avoided.

Generally, Gilman’s story The Yellow Wallpaper although a fiction represents the mistreatments of women and in particular the Victorian women in the nineteenth century and the negative effects. The men during this era were brutal and this greatly affected women not only physically, but socially and psychologically too. It is also evident that postpartum depression is a way of the author expressing her life as a wife and a woman and from her lens, the reader can understand the struggles experienced by women during this era. It is clear from this storyline that the physical treatment that women experience in society are received psychologically and thrives among the women to later cause issues later in life. The story is also a way to illustrate how postpartum disorder progresses if misdiagnosed and its later effects on an individual. All in all, it is clear that postpartum greatly affects women and can progress to postpartum psychosis described following the aspect of Lacanian psychosis where it results in insanity. 


*Howell E. “Natural Health After Birth: The Complete Guide to Postpartum Wellness.” Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, vol. 54, no. 2, June 2010, p. 132. EBSCOhost,

“Beyond the ‘Baby Blues.’ Postpartum Depression Is Common and Treatable.” The Harvard Mental Health Letter, vol. 28, no. 3, Sept. 2011, pp. 1–3. EBSCOhost,

Carmickle, Rachel L. “Postpartum Illness and Sentencing: Why the Insanity Defense Is Not Enough for Mothers with Postpartum Depression, Anxiety, and Psychosis.” Journal of Legal Medicine, vol. 37, no. 3/4, July 2017, pp. 579–596. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/01947648.2017.1385044

Chalak Ghafoor Raouf, and Helan Sherko Ali. “The Helpless Angel in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper.” International Journal of English Language and Translation Studies, Vol 06, Iss 03, Pp 130-136 (2018), no. 03, 2018, p. 130. EBSCOhost,

Davison, Carol Margaret. “Haunted House/Haunted Heroine: Female Gothic Closets in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.’” Women’s Studies, vol. 33, no. 1, Jan. 2004, pp. 47–75. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00497870490267197.

Farquharson, Kathy. “‘The Last Walls Dissolve’: Space Versus Architecture in ‘The Memoirs of a Survivor’ and ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.’” Doris Lessing Studies, vol. 28, no. 1, Winter/Spring2009 2009, pp. 4–7. EBSCOhost,

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. Project Gutenberg. EBSCOhost, Accessed 5 March 2019

Suess, Barbara A. “The Writing’s on the Wall” Symbolic Orders in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.’” Women’s Studies, vol. 32, no. 1, Jan. 2003, p. 79. EBSCOhost,

“The Postpartum Depression (PPD) Patient Journey: First in a Series of Articles on the Patient Journey and Management Challenges of PPD.” P&T: A Peer-Reviewed Journal for Managed Care & Formulary Management, June 2018, pp. 1–16. EBSCOhost,

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